Portrait of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass and His Secret Education

Found in: The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: From 1817-1882

Frederick Douglass’s discussion of growing up a slave illuminates a comment made by Thomas Jefferson in his Notes on the State of Virginia, even though Douglass does not mention Jefferson. Near the very end of the chapter “Growing in Knowledge” in his autobiography, Life and Times, Douglass wrote,


My feelings were not the result of any marked cruelty in the treatment I received; they sprang from the consideration of my being a slave at all. It was slavery, not its mere incidents I hated. I had been cheated. I saw through the attempt to keep me in ignorance. I saw that slaveholders would have gladly made me believe that they were merely acting under the authority of God in making a slave of me and in making slaves of others, and I felt to them as to robbers and deceivers. The feeding and clothing me well could not atone for taking my liberty from me. The smiles of my mistress could not remove the deep sorrow that dwelt in my young bosom. Indeed, these came in time but to deepen my sorrow. (FROM CHAPTER XI.: GROWING IN KNOWLEDGE)